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I love Shakespeare. I would love nothing more than to teach Shakespeare all day long. One thing I dislike about Shakespeare (and it is not his fault), is that we only teach his tragedies in high school. When I was in school, Shakespeare’s plays were taught in this order, freshman year was Romeo and Juliet, sophomore year was Julius Caesar, junior year was focused on American literature so the play was The Crucible (a tragedy) , and senior year was Hamlet. I suppose it varies from state to state and school to school, but what remains consistent is that everything is tragedy. Why couldn’t we teach a comedy?
All the necessary literary conventions are there. There are wonderful similes, metaphors, and allusions in The Twelfth Night. There is irony in Taming of the Shrew. We can still cover all the drama terms with a comedy. There are so many vivid characters in comedy, so there is plenty of opportunity to teach character traits, and types of conflict. I hear it all the time, “It is not about the content it is about the skill.” Well if it is just about the skill, I would like to see my students laugh.
Life is funny! If you cannot learn to laugh, what is the point of it all? We all make mistakes like Hamlet, but (usually) no one dies in the process. Romeo and Juliet for a fourteen year old? Really? A play about two teenagers that would rather kill themselves than be without each other? This is a little intense. Most freshmen have never experienced love yet, can they really understand the power of it? Instead of Romeo and Juliet, why not teach A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream? They understand having a crush on someone who does not feel the same way. Or they understand stubbornness and refusing to budge on a simple point.
I am not saying throw out all tragedy, but we have to allow our students to see more than the tragic hero fail. They need to see that love conquers all. I am aware that many comedies have PG-13 scenes, but if omitted, there should not be a problem. Many students completely miss allusions to intimacy anyway. Besides, Macbeth sending men to murder Macduff’s wife and children is quite PG-13. I want them to see life is full of exciting twists and turns. Life is silly and you have to learn to laugh. Usually, things will turn out all right in the end.
I didn’t know Shakespeare could be funny until my freshman year of college. I literally laughed out loud at A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. The whole class thought I was nuts. I had never been exposed to a funny Shakespearean play. I was so excited when I started realizing how many teen comedies were based around Shakespearean plot and how the students loved them. I want students to see two sides of the same author. A dark, twisted Shakespeare that can dive into the power of suggestion and its results as seen in Macbeth and the same time, play with mistaken identity and love triangles in The Twelfth Night. What is wrong with a bit of balance?